tfw you realize that the original XIII was the good one.
Final Fantasy XIII-2 was a game with plenty of promise. It was meant to be the so-called “apology” for XIII being so bad (it wasn’t that bad, read my review), the JRPG that would set things right and do everything that fans wanted. “This is what FF13 should’ve been”, you might even hear some folk whisper in the shadows. Prettier graphics, no more linear hallways, exploration, towns, side quests, whatever! Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? On paper. Kind of. Sort of. But wait until you actually play it.
There’s nothing lovely about XIII-2 except for that one cute girl I’ll post a picture of somewhere in here, and my general feelings towards it range from bored indifference to “WHY DID YOU DO THIS”. God, where do I even begin? I’ve made so many notes. Let’s start with the story, I guess. So XIII-2 goes kinda “whoops, that’s not how it happened after all”, like the Prince in The Sands of Time after you accidentally die to a trap or fall down a pit.
***SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING OF FFXIII NOT LIKE YOU CARE***
So at the end of FF13, Vanille and Fang turned to crystal and saved the world, both Serah and Sazh’s son turned back to human, Lightning gave her blessing to Snow’s marriage and everyone would live happily ever after. Except XIII-2 starts off by saying that wait a minute, Lightning actually died at the end of XIII. What’s more, no one remembers the timeline where she survived except for Serah. So Serah sets off on a journey with Noel, an ikemen from an apocalyptic future, to both find Lightning (apparently she’s now in a world called Valhalla, dresses in sexy armor and fights a guy called Caius) and correct the timeline so that everyone can live happily ever after the way they did in the original ending of XIII. By the way, why is Lightning even on the boxart of this thing? She’s barely even in the game.
So yes, to sum it up, this game basically retcons XIII’s ending to force its own time paradox / time travel story onto us, to the point where the entire thing feels like a completely different game compared to the first one. And you know what, that could be fine, I like time travel stories, so at first I was quite excited to embark upon this new adventure. At first.
Serah is still the bland and stereotypical “this is the kind of chick people in Japan like” sort of doe-eyed heroine, so I wasn’t a huge fan of her. Noel is slightly cooler. He also calls out Snow on his silly hero antics (like Light did in the original), so that’s another set of bonus points for him. He later does that “I couldn’t protect those I loved…… *single tear rolls down cheek*” thing, so we have to subtract some coolness points for that, I guess. Still, I was overall fine with him. He was pretty inoffensive. And handsome as fuck.
Anyway, back to the story, and boy, leave it to Square Enix to screw the pooch even with a concept as cool as time travel. You expected vastly different eras, twists and turns, countless dramatic what-if scenarios, and all the hidden potential inherent to time travel stories? Well, tough shit, bucko. You won’t get any of that here. Even though I was solving paradoxes and stuff, I felt so… totally not invested in everything that was going on. Because the game does nothing interesting with this concept. It doesn’t help that the various time periods are often just the exact same maps with a slightly different coat of paint (and sometime outright reused from XIII, like Vile Peaks and Oerba). You keep hopping back and forth between them, so the pacing is also very disjointed compared to XIII’s well-defined, easy to follow adventure. There are, of course, exceptions in the form of some cool new maps as well, like the city of Academia (which btw looks like Coruscant from Star Wars) but they’re the minority. Oh, and don’t believe what people tell you: XIII-2 still doesn’t really have “towns” in the classic FF sense, just some maps with one merchant who sells everything. You might’ve heard of said merchant because everyone online will tell you how annoying she is: Chocolina, the girl in the Chocobo costume whose Japanese voice actually makes her sound very cute and charming, so once again, she’s only bad in the dub.
Where were we? Oh right, so the maps are not hallways this time. They’re more open, and are fairly pretty by PS3 standards. But that doesn’t mean they’re good. Like I’ve said, each time period consists of a map of its own, and these maps are actually fairly small, so you can’t help but feel confined, restricted; at least XIII had some relatively lengthy areas that genuinely felt like dungeons, and toppling them felt rewarding. I’ve seen people call this game open world. Sorry, but this is not what open world means. It’s not even that big. Square just took the hallways, curled them up into a ball to make them seem more complex than they actually are, and called it a day. You won’t get the same sense of semi-freedom you might get from, say, Xenoblade’s open fields. And as I’ve said before, the maps themselves are reused and get repetitive. Similarly, the paradoxes you solve are nothing special, either, so don’t expect anything exciting. For a game about time travel, I never once felt like a time traveler.
Storyline-wise, the game is still not good, but at least in the original XIII, I could follow what was going on. XIII-2 is sort of nonsensical, and after a while, I just stopped caring altogether. Minor spoilers (if you even care at this point…), but I remember a particularly dumb moment where Serah screams into the past which Hope hears, and then this alone makes him decide to cancel a dangerous project that would cause harm later, thus changing the future. Like, wtf…In any case, there are also no interesting side characters to speak of. I thought Alyssa’s “backstory” was fairly intriguing on paper but the game doesn’t spend much time on it. I can’t remember anyone else, really.
Anyway, the bottom line is that the characters and storyline in XIII-2 are still pretty meh-tier. Caius looks cooler than the pope from XIII though, I’ll give him that.
So, gameplay. Remember what I said about the fun combat system being the main thing that redeems XIII? Well, they done fucked it up here. Instead of having various party members with well-defined, customizable Paradigms, you get only Serah and Noel + a third monster party member. Yes, you have to catch monsters and recruit them into your party. Fucking pokemans. There are various reasons why I hate this system. First off, Serah’s and Noel’s skills are nerfed in the sense that they don’t learn every skill. Like, when they level Synergist, they’ll get their Protects and Shells and whatever, but they’ll never learn Bravery/Faith, for example. If you want those, find a pokeman that can do it. Y-Yay… Or maybe, just maybe, you could’ve used the same system as FFXIII and gave me a set of full-fledged, fully upgradable party members that weren’t fucking munchkins and goblins and shit.
The good news (actually bad news) is that the game is so easy you won’t have to bother with this too much. The challenging fights from XIII? Having to rely on Stagger? Or the clever use of debuffs? Perhaps checking enemy weaknesses with Libra? Yeah, whatever, forget all that shit for the majority of the campaign, I just leveled the shit out of Commando and Ravager and nuked everyone into oblivion before they could even get close to getting staggered. I also captured a dragon that had good stats and some dog that could cast Bravery to complement my protective buffs and pretty much used that team for the entire game, mercilessly mowing down even bosses with Ravager/Commando/Commando and some sporadic heals. Nothing could stand in my way. Remember what people accused XIII of doing? How the game plays itself and you just spam auto-attack constantly? Well… XIII-2 DOES EXACTLY THAT. IT DOES THAT VERY THING. Hilarious.
Well, and then the final area of the game decides to go hardcore and the difficulty curve goes apeshit and suddenly I was getting slaughtered after plowing through 99% of the campaign without even breaking a sweat. What the fuck. So that was weird. The Crystarium level up system was also changed. Instead of having separate upgrade paths for the various roles (which was nice and easy to keep track of), now everything is on the same screen. You go through small and large nodes, upgrading whichever role you want, and get bonus stats based on… fuck, I’m not quite sure. I found this system a bit confusing and preferred the old one in XIII by a huge margin.
The game also introduces a kinda-sorta random encounter system for… some reason. Maybe they thought people like random encounters, I dunno. Well, newsflash: random encounters suck. Anyway, the way it works is that monsters will spawn near you at fixed intervals as you explore, and you can avoid them, sure, but the fact they keep spawning (sometimes right into your face) got really annoying after a while. Btw, if you fail to escape the spawned monsters in time, the battle will be forced on you with the retry function locked… which I hated, because always having a retry to fall back on was exactly what I liked in XIII, the same way I enjoyed Sora no Kiseki/Trails in the Sky’s 100% escape rate. The encounter rate also seemed fucked up in certain areas where I was getting monsters up my ass literally every five seconds and I was sick of it, especially since I was trying to solve some stupid puzzle and kept getting interrupted. From what I can tell, you can unlock a skill that lets you adjust the encounter rate, but that would require doing some of the tedious side quests, which I didn’t do, so yeah.
The big thing where XIII-2 really misses the mark is all the optional content and various gameplay elements. Let me try to explain. So I guess people complained that XIII was so empty and there was nothing to do other than run down hallways and fight enemies. Well, Square Enix to the fucking rescue! I can almost see the board meeting in my mind’s eye: “yeah, fans bitched and moaned that there was nothing to do, so let’s give them all this random bullshit, that’ll make ’em happy!” There are tedious fetch quests, collectibles, throwing your Moogle around like an idiot to make it pick up said collectibles, answering quiz questions, solving puzzles by matching colored crystals and all this tedious bullshit that made me go “what’s the point”. None of this is interesting or worthwhile. They wanted to expand on XIII and did it by adding a bunch of busywork to maintain the illusion of rich and varied content, when in reality it’s just a huge chore. I mean, what else is there? Exploring other time periods? Remember what I said: they’re mostly the same areas with a different coat of paint. You can also collect pointless cosmetic items to put on your monsters, but no one will notice that your stupid pokeman has a stupid ribbon in the middle of battle, so that’s another meaningless addition to bloat the game with. Anyway, this is the primary reason why I just stuck to the main story and got to the end in a mere 22-23 hours. Oh, did I say there were QTEs? Well, I’ll say it now: there are QTEs in cutscenes. Yeah, because that’s what I fucking need in my JRPGs: quick time events.
Anyway, I got to the final boss but it kept killing me (recall how I said that 99% of the campaign was ultra easy except for the last bit. this is that bit) and I didn’t feel like restarting the fight for the nth time so I just dropped the game and called it a day. Because that’s how much I cared about this story and its characters. In retrospect I think I know where I fucked up with the boss fight, but I have zero motivation to go back and redo it from scratch. Yeah, the gamer in me feels a bit of shame for leaving a JRPG unfinished, but on the other hand, Final Fantasy XIII-2 simply doesn’t deserve any more of my time. I doubt the ending is worth it, honestly. It probably sucks big time. Like the rest of this game.
Square Enix tried to fix everything fans appeared to have disliked about the prequel, but ended up breaking more things in the process, which ultimately gave birth to a very bleh-tastic game that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. It’s loaded with tedious side activities, has a plot that comes out of nowhere and feels like someone’s fanfiction, and even tampers with the main thing I loved about FFXIII: the battle system. It’s a disappointing sequel to a game that was already far from perfect, and if that’s not enough of a warning, I don’t know what else to tell you; after only 20+ hours, I was already more than happy to just leave it and never look back. Hopefully Lightning Returns will be more fun (at least I’ll once again get to play as the only character I liked in these two games), but I’m keeping my expectations reasonably low.